Suicide: There is a way out and companies can lead it

Suicide is far too common. Let’s change the odds this Movember and every other day. Consider supporting Doctors without Razors.  


I was on my way to Calgary to save him, when my sister called and said: he is gone; they found his body one and half hour ago. The medical examiner thinks he committed suicide on Saturday.

This afternoon, I found out that my cousin had lost his job six days ago. He was with the same company for several decades, and he was one of their top performers for many of those years. His job gave his life a routine, a structure, and meaning. I knew he would be lost without it and decided to fly over to bring him back with me to Vancouver. It was too late.

It’s 2:24 in the morning and I am uneasy about going to the morgue in a few hours to claim his body. I am sitting in a 24-hour restaurant, recognizing this is not the first time I have encountered suicide.  One of my mentors shared a story of an early-stage tech company CEO committing suicide because his business, and likely his personal finances, failed.  A realtor from my Rotary club committed suicide because of what appeared to be business and financial troubles. A business coach on the stage was sharing his suicide attempts and the story of a small business owner who commited suicide, because of business troubles. There was the tradesman who was working at our house in Edmonton who committed suicide. And there was the sandwich shop owner near the office of my first company who committed suicide in his restaurant.

Suicide is not uncommon. The problem is that it is far too common.

It is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States, claiming the lives of nearly 45,000 people[i]. There were more than twice as many suicides (44,965) in the United States as there were homicides (19,362). In Canada, one person out of 10,000 people commit suicide. These numbers are too high. Too many brother, sisters, mothers, fathers, cousins, and friends are being impacted. It is our society’s failing to allow this to continue.

To say someone commits suicide because they are depressed is flawed thinking. That type of thinking is as clever as saying that happy people don’t (usually) commit suicide. The real question is why people become depressed and why is it that some people have the resiliency to deal with life’s troubles and others don’t.

I am thinking that it all distills to our self-perception about ourselves. When someone doesn’t see themselves in positive light, they get depressed. When someone believes that they are not as good, as smart, as beautiful, as rich, as … , it can get depressing. Change that perspective, that self-perception, and much will change.

As an entrepreneur, remember that you define the business, the business does not define you. If you are wealthy or poor, remember that you make the money, the money does not make you. If you are an employee, remember that you make the job what it is, the job does not make you who you are.

If things aren’t going well, remember failures make you stronger; they are like war-scars that you can wear with pride.  They give you edge and personality. They give you perspective and compassion. They give you a platform for success. As one of my MBA professors used to say: diamonds are made under pressure. If you are feeling the pressure, say: bring it on.

As employers, I think we have a responsibility to our employees, particularly if we suspect that they will not take the news about being fired too well. It would be criminal if someone pushes another over the edge of a cliff. What if as employers we knew or should know better about the mental state of our employees. What if the signs were there and yet as employers, we did not take any steps to mitigate the risk for our employee. Would it be boarder-line criminal?

Hiring a counselor and providing a job transition coach/service are reasonable steps that any employer can take. Companies have a recruiting budget and they can just as easily have a firing/lay-off budget that is in addition to the near-mandatory severance. As I think about it, I am surprised that we don’t have adequate laws protecting the welfare of our employees, when they are let go.  This should change. I think it should change not in the court because of legal actions against employer, but by examples of employers who are and do better for their employees.

As employers, we can justify the business case, because the way we treat those on their way out will send a message to rest of the company and buys a lot good will from our remaining employees. It pays dividends to do good.

As a society, we can do far better. But what is society? It is you and me and others around us. This means that doing better starts with each of us. How would we act towards ourselves and others if we just didn’t know if we had only today or the next hundred years to live? How different would our relationships and companies be if we lived every day as if it was our last day and the first day of the next hundred years.

Today is the 22nd of Movember. Let’s change the suicide numbers, not just for men, but for all. Consider supporting Doctors without Razors.